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Woog’s World / The Susan Fund gave them the chance

December 8, 2017 GMT

As the holidays rush toward us, Westporters look beyond family and friends for ways to give. We write checks to charities, nonprofits and funds, hoping to give them a year-end boost (and ourselves, perhaps, a tax deduction). All are worthy. Choosing among them is tough.

I can’t single any one out, and ask you to help. But I can sure shine a spotlight on an extra special one.

The Susan Fund was established 36 years ago. As a senior at Staples High School, Susan Davis Lloyd was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma. Looking forward to Colgate University, she chose to have her leg amputated and undergo chemotherapy.

Throughout treatment Susan worked two jobs, participated in extracurricular activities and earned excellent grades.

She never made it to college. But after she died, her family and friends honored her legacy of courage and determination. For nearly four decades the Susan Fund has provided scholarships to Fairfield County students diagnosed with cancer. Nearly 270 recipients have received $1,621,600. The fund awarded $62,500 to 22 recipients last year alone. The lives that have been changed — theirs, and others — are incalculable.

The Susan Fund’s most recent newsletter highlighted some amazing stories. Recipients come from every town and city in the county. I’ll focus on a few from Westport.

Ryan Caulfield is attending the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Nursing Honors College. His goal is to become a nurse anesthetist. Ryan is a classical pianist who, prior to his diagnosis and treatment for cancer, organized and performed a benefit concert to raise money for post-9/11 critically injured service members.

Camryn Prince is studying psychology at Sarah Lawrence College. She hopes to work as a researcher or therapist. Her volunteer experiences include an initiative to identify risk factors for low birth weight and premature births, and the Yonkers Revitalization Project for welfare and public housing.

Emma Rhoads received her fourth Susan Fund scholarship. At Parsons, she is working toward a career in print and textile design. She has volunteered with Fashion Week, and last summer interned at Michael Kors. Emma says that art in all forms is a therapeutic outlet for coping with cancer. Drawing, painting, sewing and other forms of creativity have given her joy and optimism during her illness, while inspiring her as she trains for her career.

The Susan Fund offers scholarships to a wide variety of students. They come from Fairfield County suburbs and cities. Some are undergraduates. Others are grad students — including some who have returned to school late in life.

But there’s a heavy Westport influence. Five of the 12 board members are from Westport. Among them: Ann and Will Lloyd, Susan’s mother and brother.

Her other brother David — an ESPN sportscaster — is also deeply involved in the fund. He remembers Susan’s “annoying habit of outpacing me in most affairs requiring courage.” She was off the diving board before he could even climb it, and sailed past him on a two-wheeler while he still rode a bike with training wheels.

“That grit served her as she fought cancer,” David recalls. “Nearly four decades later, I remain in awe of how Susan handled the assault of the disease. While dealing with the loss of her leg and her hair and her health, she was steadfast in her optimism, and had the strength to prop up her family’s resolve as well, despite the ravages that were all too apparent.

“She consoled me and protected me in those last months of her short life. I wasn’t much interested in finding value or lessons from Susan’s death, but they found me anyway and have never left.”

Earlier this year, David spoke at the Susan Fund’s annual awards ceremony, held in the Easton Library. He said, “Susan dealt with her diagnosis with grit and grace. She lived those last months of her life beautifully and bravely. Susan motivates and inspires me every day.”

He noted that their mother is “the engine of the fund. She took the worst thing that can happen in life, and channeled her heartache and uncommon strength into creating the fund. It is a tribute to her and my sister.”

The ceremony, and the reception that follows, is a joyous affair. Past recipients return. They tell stories of their successes - due in great part to their scholarships - and bring spouses. Now they’re bringing their children.

All are excited about the future. It’s a future some of them might not have imagined once. Cancer upended their lives — emotionally, as well as financially. Modern medicine gave them hope. But the Susan Fund gave them the chance to move on with their lives.

To learn more, or contribute, click on TheSusanFund.org, email SusanFund@gmail.com, or write The Susan Fund, 8 Hilly Field Lane, Westport, CT 06880.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.